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Supporting your partner as they navigate Relationship OCD

Supporting your partner as they navigate "relationship OCD"

Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD) is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that affects people's romantic relationships. Those with ROCD experience constant and intrusive thoughts, doubts, and anxieties about their relationship. They often feel uncertain about the validity of their relationship and worry about their partner's feelings and attraction towards them. They may engage in compulsive behaviors like seeking reassurance or constantly checking their own emotions and reactions. ROCD can be very distressing and have a negative impact on their relationship, daily life, and overall well-being. When someone is trapped in the cycle of OCD, they feel incomplete no matter how much reassurance they receive or efforts made to fix the issue. The good news is that ROCD is highly treatable, and individuals can learn skills to overcome it with the help of their loved ones.

Indulging in rituals or behaviors as a means of alleviating doubts further strengthens them for individuals grappling with OCD.  Resist the urge to try and talk your partner out of their obsessive thought cycle. They are aware that the thoughts are irrational and ultimately need to learn to cope with the thought intrusions without engaging in mental or behavioral rituals.   Here are some things that you can say as a partner to support your loved one struggling with ROCD and to prevent cycles from continuing:

  1. Validate your partner’s feelings: It's important for you to validate your partner’s feelings and acknowledge that they are real and distressing. This can help them feel heard and understood, which can reduce their need to seek reassurance.  Resist the urge to combat their irrational thoughts or concerns- just validate that they feel bad at that moment.

  2. Establishing boundaries is essential: Avoid excessive reassurance or avoidance of topics that trigger your partner's OCD thoughts. This can help your partner learn to tolerate uncertainty and reduce their reliance on your reassurance.  Here is an example of a dialog where you set a boundary with your partner regarding their OCD or intrusive thoughts: 

You: Hey, I noticed you seem a bit anxious today. What's going on?

Loved one: I just keep having these thoughts about our relationship and if you really want to be with me.  

You: I understand that you're struggling with these thoughts, and I want to support you. However, I don't want to reassure you or reinforce these beliefs. What can I do instead?

Loved one: Well, sometimes it helps if we spend quality time together or do something we both enjoy. It makes me feel more connected to you.

You: That sounds like a great idea. I also want to remind you that I am committed to our relationship and that I love you. But I understand that hearing those words might not help you in the long run, so let's focus on finding ways to manage your anxiety together.

Loved one: Thank you for understanding. I really appreciate your support.

You: Of course, I'm here for you. Let's work together to find ways to manage your OCD so that it doesn't control our relationship.

  1. Practice ERP (exposure and response prevention) exercises that your partner is working on in therapy : help your partner by delaying reassurance or watching TV shows or movies that trigger their OCD thoughts. Gradually exposing your partner to their feared situations and resisting the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors (i.e. trying to explain or defend yourself) can help them learn to tolerate uncertainty and reduce their anxiety. Only do this under the supervision of a therapist.  

  2. Be patient and Supportive: Dealing with OCD can be challenging, both for the person with OCD and their loved ones. Be patient and supportive as your partner works through their OCD symptoms, and remind them that recovery is possible 

  3. Don’t try to fix or rationalize their thoughts:  Rationalizing OCD thoughts can be counterproductive and actually make the problem worse. Trying to reason with obsessive and intrusive thoughts can reinforce their power and validity in the individual's mind. It can also lead to a vicious cycle of doubt and uncertainty, where the person is constantly seeking reassurance and analyzing their thoughts. It is crucial to acknowledge that these thoughts do not accurately reflect reality and are symptomatic of OCD. Instead of attempting to rationalize or engage in arguments with these thoughts, individuals with OCD can find value in acquiring coping strategies like mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, and exposure and response prevention therapy. By learning to accept and manage their OCD, individuals can reduce their anxiety 

In conclusion,  the most important thing you can do is to be patient, empathetic, and supportive. By offering unconditional love and support, you can help your loved one feel heard and supported as they work to manage their  ROCD.  Try to remember that their thoughts may be triggered by you but are not about you. These thoughts are simply a function of their anxiety and likely a response to trauma. 


‘Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Signs, Types, Causes, and Treatment” 

“Relationship OCD - Symptoms and Treatment” 


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